Cancer brought out a strength in a Columbus native that she never knew she possessed.

Danielle Boggs, 36, was diagnosed May 29, 2013, with Stage 3 rectal cancer, meaning it had spread regionally in her body. Boggs, 31 at the time of diagnosis, said she determined then that she would be a fighter.

But her cancer journey actually began earlier, when she was about 28. Boggs, who lived in Florida at the time, began noticing blood in her stool. After numerous doctor appointments, Boggs was reassured that she just had a hemorrhoid. Shortly after her first appointment, the symptom went away as though nothing was wrong.

One year later, though, the symptom returned as Boggs and her husband started fertility treatments after several unsuccessful attempts at pregnancy.

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During the treatment, Boggs’ symptoms grew worse with a greater amount of blood and weight loss.

“I knew something was really wrong, but I told myself it was probably just stress,” Boggs said. “If I didn’t get pregnant with the in vitro fertilization, then I would get it checked out.”

Sure enough, Boggs was unable to get pregnant — something she said may have saved her life.

Boggs told her primary care physician about the severity of her symptoms and she was referred to a gastroenterologist. After undergoing a colonoscopy, Boggs was faced with three words no one hopes to hear: “You have cancer.”

“It was a complete shock,” Boggs said. “I thought my poor husband was going to hit the floor and pass out. I just asked, ‘What do I need to do?’”

Boggs started the process with six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. For six weeks, Boggs was attached to a pump that drove fluids into her body for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During that time, she also underwent six weeks of radiation therapy.

To keep a sense of normalcy, Boggs continued to work — as a zookeeper in Florida — through her treatment.

“I was working outside in the Florida heat in the middle of the summer going through chemo and radiation, but it was nice because it was keeping things normal for me,” Boggs said. “I was also younger and able to tolerate it a lot more.”

The treatments ended in August 2013 and Boggs was scheduled to have surgery that October — to remove 12 inches of her lower bowels and 13 lymph nodes. Because one of the 13 lymph nodes tested positive for cancer, Boggs had to go through about six more months of chemotherapy, from January through July in 2014.

“It was hard,” Boggs said. “I’m a super positive person, so the way I coped was by throwing myself into it, staying positive and finding the good in every little thing that was. Every day, I would take a small step. I took each hurdle as it came.”

Since winning her battle against cancer more than three years ago, Boggs has become extremely involved in the cancer community, sharing her story with others and lobbying at the nation’s capital to reduce the colonoscopy screening age.

“Colorectal cancer is on the rise significantly in young adults and nothing is being done with it,” Boggs said. “You hear stories over and over of people being misdiagnosed because their doctors think they are too young. But it’s not an old person’s disease anymore.”

Through a national organization called The Colon Club, Boggs met a community of people under age 50 diagnosed with colorectal cancer. In March, Boggs was a featured survivor in The Colon Club’s annual magazine, which she said showcases the stories of young survivors of colorectal cancer.

“I wouldn’t change my journey for the world,” Boggs said. “As much struggle as I’ve had with it, it’s honestly made me a better person. It’s made me appreciate life so much more and make so many positive changes to my lifestyle. It makes me live each day to the fullest.”

The Boggs file

Who: Danielle Boggs

Occupation: Trains service dogs for people with disabilities at Canine Companions for Independence

Age: 36

Resides: Santa Rosa, California; formerly of Columbus

High School: Columbus East, class of 1999

Type of cancer: Rectal, Stage 3

Treatments: chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries

Family: Husband, Eric Boggs; mother, Ann Harrison; stepfather, Pat Harrison; father, John Zeigler; stepmother, Lisa Zeigler; sister, Cortney Harrison; brothers, Josh Zeigler and Zachary Zeigler; step-sister, April Retz.

Colors for a Cure inside today

Each October, The Republic publishes Colors for a Cure, a cancer awareness section. The name Colors for a Cure refers to certain colors which are used symbolically to highlight specific types of cancer. The section includes inspirational stories of local people who are battling cancer or have survived it, and provides valuable information to cancer patients and their families.

Look for the 20-page section inside today’s Republic.